Meet the four people already already guaranteed a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame's Class of 2019 leading into Tuesday's official announcement of who was elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
A popular story during his years with the Chicago White Sox said that, long before the team chose Harold Baines with the first-overall pick in the 1977 draft, owner Bill Veeck had spotted him as a Little Leaguer and kept an eye on him from then on. If that was the case, Veeck was as much a visionary as he was a promoter. Baines went on to have sustained success over 22 seasons, collecting 2,866 hits, 1,628 RBI and 384 home runs. He was selected to six All-Star Games, including one when he was 40. He was considered such a valuable player that several teams acquired him late in seasons for playoff pushes. Having garnered little support from the Baseball Writers Association of America when he was eligible on the regular ballot, Baines was a controversial selection by the Today’s Game Era Committee.
At the end of his 18-season career, Lee Smith’s 478 career saves ranked first in baseball history. The tall, hard-throwing reliever pitched at a time when the closer’s role was evolving and becoming increasingly valued by major league clubs. During his climb through the minors, he became discouraged about being a reliever, considering it a demotion, and had to be talked into sticking with it by Cubs legend Billy Williams, now a fellow Hall of Famer. Smith pitched for eight teams, including the Yankees, and had his longest run (eight years) with the Cubs, who drafted him in 1975. Smith was a seven-time all-star who three times had 40 or more saves in a season and four times led his league in that category. He finished with a 71-92 record and 3.03 ERA. His 478 saves still rank third behind Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera. He was elected in December by the Today’s Game Era Committee.
In the early 1950s, Al Hefler became known far and wide as “Mr. Radio Baseball,” largely because his dedication and work travel took him far and wide — every week. The 2019 winner of the Ford Frick Award, presented annually to a broadcaster for major contributions to baseball, was the play-by-play announcer for Mutual Broadcasting System’s Game of the Day series, which had him in different ballparks six days a week speaking to an audience that reportedly reached 80 million. He became internationally known while enduring a schedule such as the one of which his wife once spoke: breakfast at home in Hartsdale, N.Y., lunch in Boston and dinner in Chicago. Hefler, who died in 1975, also had season-long jobs with several teams, including the Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers. Colleague Vin Scully told the Hall of Fame Hefler was “a gentle, nice and wonderful man” whose “character came through over the air to the point where you would like him instinctively.”
Long before baseball people began subscribing to analytics, Jayson Stark was analytical, in the most traditional sense. The newspaper reporter analyzed everything about baseball, using statistics, scouts’ observations, offbeat personal stories and, above all, his own thorough and enthusiastic reporting. He is the 2019 winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, selected by Baseball Writers Association of America members for meritorious contributions to baseball writing. Stark became nationally recognized during his 20 years as Phillies beat writer and then columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, his hometown paper. He became a mainstay as a commentator on ESPN and a writer for the network’s website and now writes for The Athletic. Fellow Spink Award winner Peter Gammons wrote in that online site that Stark stayed in the Dodger Stadium press box until 3:30 a.m. Pacific time, writing his story about Game 3 of the 2018 World Series, a piece that Gammons said was one of the five best baseball stories he ever has read.